Niagara Gazette

August 12, 2013

Lynyrd Skynyrd back for another big show at Artpark

By Thom Jennings
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Lynyrd Skynyrd returns to Artpark on Tuesday for a sold-out performance. The band’s historic performance at Artpark on July 26, 2011, was arguably the largest attended concert in the venue’s history. Many fans didn’t even make it into the venue because of traffic jams that went on for miles, and the ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd shows that year are largely responsible for Artpark moving to a low-price ticketed event over a free one.

If you remember July 26, 2011, you will appreciate the difference between being packed in the venue like sardines and having a reasonable limit of fans at the show. Since it is sold out, you will still need to plan to get to the venue early.

Even though there were traffic jams and crowds, on that night two years ago Lynyrd Skynyrd put on a spectacular show. Lead singer Johnny Van Zant remarked, “Wow, what a great crowd! It seems to go on forever!” And he and the rest of the band drew from the energy of the crowd for their 13-song set.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is a band with a storied history and an important legacy as trailblazers for modern country music and pioneers of the southern rock sound that influenced many bands including last week’s headliner 38 Special.

The band’s history is defined by one of rock music’s greatest tragedies, the Oct. 20, 1977, plane crash that took the lives of lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister Cassie Gaines one of the band’s backup singers, and the band’s assistant road manager, Dean Kilpatrick. There were six band members that survived including current Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington.

The band remained dormant for 10 years, with the Rossington-Collins Band as the outlet for most of the survivors. They had a hit with “Don’t Misundertand Me,” sung by Dale Krantz-Rossington, who now tours as a Skynyrd backup singer.

There was too high a demand for Lynyrd Skynard music for the surviving band members to ignore, and in 1987 a tribute band led by Ronnie’s brother Johnny was formed.

That is the group that led to the current incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and sadly the music tradition wasn’t the only thing revived, the band continued to deal with tragedies and lineup shifts.

Guitarist Allen Collins was involved in a car crash that left him paralyzed, he died in 1990. Bassist Leon Wilkeson, whose arm never healed properly from injuries sustained in the 1977 plane crash, died in 2001. Keyboardist Billy Powell died of a heart attack in 2009.

Through it all the group has defined the term made famous by their last album with Ronnie Van Zant, they are “Street Survivors.”

Perhaps more importantly they remain a viable and vibrant group, still recording and performing with the same type of vigor that helped make Lynyrd Skynyrd hugely popular.

Their newest album, “Last of a Dyin’ Breed,” came out just last year. The song titles say it all, “One Day at a Time”, “Nothing Comes Easy”, “Life’s Twisted”, “Nothing Comes Easy” and “Start Livin’ Life Again.”

On Tuesday, the band will be performing the songs that defined their legacy, including “Freebird,” one of rock music’s most beloved songs. One can only imagine that as those familiar notes drift towards the sky, a few former members are smiling down on the current lineup and appreciating how they have kept their music alive, even after “Tuesday’s gone with the wind.”

Thom Jennings covers Artpark and the local music scene for the Gazette.